It’s time for another list! This time, it is a new weekly, semi-monthly, monthly . . . uh, whenever I get around to doing it feature named: Best Fantasy Covers!
When I was researching my “Worst Fantasy Covers” list, I found myself realizing how many good or even great fantasy covers there have been through the years. More than enough for a top twenty-five list, and then it struck me, “Why stop there?” If I was going to post the worst covers, shouldn’t I just post the best as well? Yes, I decided, and so here we are.
Now, as I have already admitted in other posts, I love good fantasy covers. There is no particular theme or images that need to be present. I adore both simple covers and magnificent artwork. Either will do. However, the key is that the image has to grab me, evoke a sense of wonder or intrigue so as to make me want to discover what fantastical world that cover hides behind it. And when I discover one of those types of fantasy covers at my local bookstore or on amazon or wherever, it will, without a doubt, influence my desire to pick up said novel, check out its description and read a few reviews. So, it is just a fact that if a book has a great cover I’m at least one-third of the way toward buying it. Perhaps that is somewhat immature of me, but I’m the one reading the book, so I can choose them however I want to, right?
So, as you read part one of my “Best Fantasy Covers” list, please understand that there is no magic criteria for a novel being placed on it. It is merely my personal reaction to a specific book cover. Maybe, it was something new and different at publication, or I loved the artist, or it just spoke to me on some level, but whatever, the reason, these fantasy book covers made me want to read these novels. That initial pleasure with the cover did not always evolve into love of the novel contained within, so some of the books on this list are NOT my reading favorites, even if I love their covers. So if you disagree with me about a cover, that is perfectly okay. We don’t all appreciate the same artwork anymore than we appreciate the same novels. It is all a personal taste issue, after all.
So with that brief explanation behind us, let us enjoy my first five nominations for Best Fantasy Covers.
1. Yorath the Wolf by Cherry Wilder
This is a 1985 book with a great cover by Stephen Hickman. Mr. Hickman is probably best known for his illustrations for Larry Niven’s Man-Kzin Wars series and the stunning dragons of Steven Brust’s Dragaera novels. Here he has taken Yorath, prince and heir to the throne of Mel’Nir, and shown him in all his power. The cover really grabbed my attention back in the 1980s, when this was first published, and made me wonder who this guy was. It even is relatively accurate as far as fantasy illustrations go, not taking too much liberty with the actual description of Yorath in the novel itself.
Take a look at more of Stephen Hickman’s art Here
Start the adventure at Amazon.
A Princess of the Chameln
2. Dragon Prince by Melaine Rawn
A 1988 romantic fantasy. The cover art by Michael Whelan perfectly captures the essence of this novel, which is Prince Rohan and the sunrunner (sorceress) Sioned’s love/lust for one another and a plot that involves dragons producing gold in a huge desert kingdom and a number of royal houses competing for control over this desert resources. (Did I hear someone mention Dune‘s sandworms and spice?) No matter your like or dislike of the story itslef, Mr. Whelan’s cover is striking, which comes as no surprise to most fantasy aficionados, for his amazing paintings have graced the covers of more than 350 books and magazines, including Stephen King’s The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower as well as many of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, Mrs. Rawn’s Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series, and Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch series. And here his cover for Ms. Rawn’s Dragon Prince novel went a long way to convincing me, back in the day, that this was an epic fantasy worth my reading time.
Take a look at more of Michael Whelan’s art Here
Purchase the novel at Amazon.
3. The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore
The 1988 edition of The Icewind Dale Trilogy Book One, which is now Part IV of The Legends of Drizzt series. To be fair, I have to confess that I was a Dungeon & Dragon fanatic back in the early 80s, and since Mr. Elmore’s beautiful illustrations graced the covers of many of my favorite TSR products, it should come as no surprise that whenever I saw one of his fantasy covers I gravitated toward it. And this one to me is just as good, if not better, than the more famous Dragonlance Chronicles and Dragonlance Legends covers– though The Time of the Twins image of Raistlin and Crysania is really close. In any event, whenever I read about Drizzt, Bruenor, and Wulfgar, this cover is exactly how I picture them.
Take a look at more of Larry Elmore’s art Here
Purchase the novel at Amazon.
4. Instrumentalities of the Night by Glen Cook
I am a fan of Glen Cook, especially his fantasy series like The Black Company, The Dread Empire, and his newest Instrumentalities of the Night. However, in the past, I had to overlook some really bad covers in order to get to the great novel beneath. However, all that started to change when Raymond Swanland began producing some outstanding artwork for this and other Cook fantasy novels. To me, this cover has that vaguely mystical appearance with armed men fighting that just gets your attention and makes you wonder what this book is about. For that and other reasons, it is a favorite of mine.
Take a look at more of Raymond Swanland’s art Here
Purchase the cover at Amazon.
5. The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Stavely
A recent cover that really peaked my interest in the novel. But don’t take my word for it, read what the author wrote about Richard Anderson’s cover.
“Brian Staveley on the cover: Getting ready to see your new cover is like sitting at the bar waiting for your blind date to show. Your editor set it all up, assuring you that you’re going to be crazy about the match; you’ve seen a few little thumbnail photos on line; but still… while etiquette suggests you can politely leave a blind date after two beers, your cover is going to be your cover for a very long time.
All the same questions crop up: What if we have nothing in common? What if the cover doesn’t get me? What if it’s cooler than I am? (Well, you want it to be cooler, actually, but no so much cooler that you feel like a loser.) Then there’s the whole question of personal taste. You might be hoping for a brunette with tattoos, but a debutante sits down at the table instead.
I try not to be superficial, but when Richard Anderson’s stunning cover finally sidled up to the bar, my first thought was that she was, well… gorgeous. Didn’t pay much attention, at first, to whether we had anything in common—I just stared and stared, trying to keep my mouth closed.
Only later, when my heart had had a chance to settle and my palms stopped sweating, did I realize just how well she understood me. She got my interest in non-western cultures. She was hip to my need for a good mix of the physical and the spiritual, the martial and the political. And, like me, she realized that there’s no substitute for an enormous, man-killing bird of prey.
It’s a happy, romantic ending all around, except maybe for my wife, who sometimes has to tell me to put away the damn cover already and come to bed.” Tor.com
Take a look at more of Richard Anderson’s art Here
Purchase the novel at Amazon.
Well, that is my first five. Now, it is your turn. Tell me why you agree or disagree and nominate a few covers you love.
CHECK OUT MY BEST AND WORST FANTASY COVERS LISTS
Best Fantasy Covers Part 2
Worst Fantasy Covers Part 1
Worst Fantasy Covers Part 2
Worst Fantasy Covers Part 3
haha – “what if the cover doesn’t get me? or is cooler than me” Seriously Its hilarious to hear what they think before seeing their cover and the fears they must have! Covers can totally make or break a books sales!
Covers really are powerful drivers of sales. More than I ever realized. When I actually stopped and thought about it, I was amazed at how many of my own purchases were driven by covers. Sad as that may sound. 🙂
I’m totally not ashamed to admit I’m a cover snob. I think having a decent cover shows how much faith a publisher has in the book as well because they are willing to invest more money to acquire the services of a decent cover artist or illustrator. It also speaks to a indie authors faith in themselves if they are willing to go that extra mile and get good cover art for themselves (not that I read much indie books unfortunately). I am however much more careful now a adays about whether I pick up a book based solely on cover art because of the fact I’ve been burned by pretty covers before.
Covers are very important! I am shallow. I am drawn in by them. I distinctly remember many a time I’ve also been distinctly embarrassed purchasing some of my favorites wishing they could have done better with the cover. While I don’t agree with all your favorites I certainly understand that thought process behind them.
Raymond Swanland’s covers are literally how I ended up reading the Black Company novels. I knew absolutely nothing about the series, but I judge books by their covers and that one screamed badass off the shelf at me.
Hmm, a handful of cover artists I admire that I can think of off the top of my head – Raymond Swanland is one, definitely. I also love some of Gene Mollica’s covers and as well Jason Chan’s.
Damn it. I have Tyranny of the Night on my shelf begging for a reread. Thanks for the reminder.
Uh, ya, I am a cover person 100% I don’t PICK them on the cover, but I PICK THEM UP from them, then look a bit closer at what I am holding.
I love a good cover. I realised this when I read The Hobbit back in junior high school. The artwork on the cover showed beautiful fantastic scenery, and I wanted to see more covers like that. But I don’t choose books because of their covers. I’m currently reading a book with a terrible cover, but that doesn’t affect my opinion of it.
I completely agree with you – covers drive sales, much more than we realize! The artwork on all the covers you included here are fantastic (pun intended), but the one that stands out for me is The Emperor’s Blades. Can’t quite tell you why, but it stirred my imagination.
I agree. These covers with misty images of figures with swords just really gets my mind whirling about what the book is about.
Thanks for the comment. 🙂